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Portrait of the Writer as a Woman: My New Year’s Resolutions, 2016

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UnknownDecember 2015 was a very rough month for my writing. In fact, I believe I only got one blog done, and nothing on any of my books. One of our cats was diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes, had stopped eating and drinking, and was doing an excellent imitation of a Zombie-cat: she could have done a cameo on The Walking Dead without any previous acting experience.

Tom and I hadn’t even realized that cats could get diabetes.

After the first shock of the diagnosis, we were hammered with the cost of the insulin: $389 for 10ml. I began to weep, despite the fact that the vet said that bottle could last as long as 6 months. All I could think was that one of my babies was going to die because I couldn’t afford her medicine. Tom was too deep into shock to register much of what happened after he heard the diagnosis: he just assumed it was a death sentence, so I don’t think he heard much of the consultation beyond that, though he did hear the cost of the medicine.

Apparently, human insulin, $25 for the same amount, doesn’t work as well on cats, and the more expensive one has been shown to put many cats into remission.

Not cure.

Remission.

But I didn’t have $389. I’d just spent almost $500 on new tires for my ’99 Jeep Wrangler: my old ones had no tread, and winter was coming to the mountain. Without off-road tires and 4-wheel-drive, no one can make it up here. Over the past few months, as my car had broken down several times, with parts simply wearing out from age, I’d also paid our mechanic $2300 on a “back-up vehicle.”

Which wouldn’t start.

images-2So I didn’t have the $2300 I’d spent on my back-up vehicle, whose insurance is more costly since it’s a “classic.” I thought the insurance representative was playing a joke on me in May when I bought the ’94 Jeep Cherokee Sport, but, apparently, it is considered a “classic,” and so my insurance is higher. So there was that cost: $89/month since May, on a “classic” car that I didn’t even have, and for which I bought new tires, a new windshield, new brakes, etc. Yet it was still sitting at the shop because, despite my mechanic’s insistence that he could start the car, I couldn’t. Ever.

I still can’t.

Only now it’s sitting in my driveway.

Waiting to be towed back down to the shop, where we’ve decided to “swap it out” for another vehicle. Or, at least, to swap out the $2300 I already paid and apply it to a more reliable (read, it starts right away when you turn the key, not three days later if you’re lucky) “back-up” car.

stethoscope-1-1541316And then there were all the medical expenses.

Since the blessing of Obama-Care, my deductible has gone from $500/year to $7K in 2013, to $8.5K in 2014, to $12K in 2015, to $15K in 2016. Needless to say, I’m still paying off the “deductible” bills from 2013. Despite the fact that it is illegal to have a medical insurance deductible higher than Obama-Care’s $3K, the President or Congress or some idealist didn’t realize that you cannot have “government” health care provided by private,  for profit providers, like Blue Cross / Blue Shield (who is the only provider of Obama-Care, as far as I can determine), nor can you force other for profit insurance providers to lose money. So, technically, as my insurance provider has constantly assured me every time I’ve protested or vociferously complained, my deductible is only $3K a year.

My “co-insurance,” which I never had before and which is, apparently, unlimited, makes up the balance of what I have to pay each year.

I say deductible, you say co-insurance… let’s call the whole thing off.

So there’s that, too.

And then we got slammed with Trixie’s “uncontrolled diabetes” diagnosis and the cost of the preferred insulin.

IMG_1005My grief over the thought of losing Trixie because I didn’t have the money for her medicine encouraged the Vet to suggest that I save for the medicine that might put her into remission, while using human insulin to keep her alive and out of the Zombie-cat mode.

I’ve spent the entire month of December managing Trixie and her hypoglycemic crises. Yes, that’s hypoglycemic, as in her blood glucose falls too low. The Vet insists that this is good, and that she might already be going into remission. Apparently some 15-20% of cats can go into remission on any insulin, relatively quickly after they start treatment. We can’t know if it’s happening with Trixie yet because she needs to stabilize, and the Vet has had to lower the dose virtually every day this past week.

These are the kind of things that prevented me from writing in December 2015.

They’re also the kind of things that made me think of how different writing can be for a woman than for a man.

After all, though I’m sure Tom could take care of Trixie if he were forced to, he mostly hurriedly volunteers to take the dog out to the bathroom or to shovel 4-6′ snowdrifts away from the vehicles and the gate rather than to test her blood glucose or give her the insulin shots. Mommy is the one who does that.

Mommy also watches for the Invasion of the Zombie-cat, which means Trixie is hypoglycemic and could go into a coma or have brain-damaging seizures. It’s Mommy who rubs the Karo syrup on her gums when she becomes non-responsive and sits staring at the wall. The one afternoon I went out to do some food shopping and get a medical massage (which helps reduce my hemiplegic migraines) and asked Tom to keep a “close watch” on Trixie, he promised to do so but went out to work in the barn and was out there all afternoon. In fact, when I got home, he didn’t even know where Trixie was. Oh, he knew she was in the house since the cats don’t (can’t) go out up here on Big Rock Candy Mountain because of the wild animals, but he hadn’t been in the house himself to see where or how she was.

These are some of the events that have made me re-evaluate my usual New Year’s Resolutions: I was born a woman, but I believe I was also born an artist.

The artist in me chose writing as the medium through which to express herself, so any Resolutions have to include the fact that I’m a writer simply because that’s who and what I am.

Resolution 1:
Write More

images-5I must write more blog posts, more regularly, as I was doing for most of 2015.

If that means that Tom must do more grocery shopping and meal preparation, as he’s been willingly doing since Trixie’s diabetes diagnosis, then he’ll have to do more of the household chores as well. We’re both liberated, and we’ve always shared the chores. Now that one of my jobs as a woman and as the Mommy seems to be nursing the sick animals, Daddy will have to do more than half of the chores. We’re both retired, we both have our own businesses, but his is more seasonal than mine, while mine is much more time-consuming than his. Therefore, it’s off to the market and into the kitchen more often for Tom because Mommy, who nurses any of the animals who’s ill, needs to blog more.

My blog-reading audience is actually contacting me via the twitter and the book of face and asking me to blog more, asking me if I’m all right because I haven’t been on the social media sites during December, asking me for suggestions about what shows or films to watch (I mostly blog about entertainment). They keep telling me they need my blog posts.

They are the boss of me.

I resolve to blog more.

Resolution 2:
Lose Weight

Me & PatrickI know some of you don’t believe that’s me there with Patrick, but it is. The year was 2000, my second novel, Only with the Heart, had just come out, and since he’d optioned my first novel, The Kommandant’s Mistress, to star in it himself, he asked me to come out to LA so we could meet in person and discuss the book. (We’d talked many times on the phone in the previous 6 years, but had not met). And that was not my heaviest, my highest weight. Of course, I don’t even recognize myself in that photo with Patrick, let alone in the photo Tom recently found of me at (almost) my highest weight, when we met and fell in love in 1994.

Between 2005 and 2007, I lost 275 pounds.

I don’t know how much more than that I lost because my therapist in Ohio wouldn’t even let me look at a scale until I’d lost 40 pounds (she brought the scale in to her office and weighed me). I was at 450 the first time she let me look, and I wanted to die of shame. Instead, I resolved to conquer my eating disorder and get my weight back under control for my own health.

Here’s how I did it: I ate whatever I wanted but only when I was hungry, and, even more important than that, I stopped eating as soon as I was no longer hungry. I didn’t continue eating until I was full. Not even just a little full. I put the food away as soon as I no longer felt any hunger.

That meant I ate several small “meals” during the day. It meant that if I wanted to eat ice cream, for example, or a candy bar, then I ate that as a meal but stopped if I found I was no longer hungry even if there was only one bite of candy bar or ice cream left. I kept telling myself that I could always have it later.

I ditched my parents’ Clean your plate rule.

I threw away the Three Meals a Day rule.

I didn’t care if anyone else thought my “diet” was balanced or not.

I have an eating disorder. In the past, it manifested mostly as anorexia, when I lived on sodas and sugary iced tea rather than on food, dropping down to 120 pounds (I’m 5’8″ with a large frame: my non-dominant wrist, at my lowest weight, is 7.75″ around the bones). After my first book was accepted, the anorexia changed, for some reason, to compulsive overeating: I literally could not stop myself from eating, even if I was in physical pain from eating too much already. And I was a complete failure at bulimia, which horrified my therapist when I said that to her after I sought help.

Drugs did not help me: I had an allergic reaction to virtually every one I tried, or it made it impossible for me to lose weight.

Restricting my food intake by calories or types aggravates the eating disorder.

Weighing myself daily does that, too.

Because my Muncher mother used to starve us children.

Women who practice Munchausen’s by Proxy — called Munchers by law enforcement and medical professionals who discover their abuse, torture, and killings — do so much damage to their children, it is virtually impossible to heal it all. They’re more than the female equivalent of male serial killers because they do damage to their own family members and to others dependent on their care — in the privacy of their own homes, where no one sees them, and with few people believing those who tell what is happening within the home.

M is for Munchers cover w mask 1In any event, I needed to lose weight for my health — even though I had no obvious medical problems — as well as for my own self-esteem, but I had to do it in a way that would not trigger the Muncher-abuse-induced eating disorder, which I and all my siblings suffer from. That’s how I came up with my eating plan.

Because it had to be for the rest of my life.

I lost the 275 pounds and, mostly, I’ve kept it off.

When my favorite cat died of heart failure in 2012, my grief tipped me over into the eating disorder again, and though I knew it was happening, I couldn’t stop myself. That’s what makes it an eating disorder: you cannot stop yourself without help. I gained 50 pounds before I got my eating disorder under control again.

Then I hit what has to be one of the longest plateaus in weight-loss history ever: 2012-2014. I didn’t gain any weight, but I didn’t lose any either. No matter how little I ate or how much I exercised.

Last year, I re-dedicated myself to my personal eating plan, and I lost 26 pounds.

My doctor insists I only have the original, re-gained 50 pounds to lose, and so now I only have 24 more to lose.

I think losing 50 pounds would be better (taking me down to 150), but he insists that I’ll look like a skeleton and that he’ll be really annoyed with me if I lose more than 24 additional pounds. I say it’s my body and I can lose whatever amount of weight I want. But… this is a woman thing, I think, and even writing about it too much is treacherous because I begin to convince myself that if I could only be anorexic again — which happens after I don’t eat anything for a few days — it would all be so much easier…

And I would be treating myself just as my serial killer Muncher mother did: starving myself.

As my first therapist asked me, “Would you do that to a child of yours? Would you ever do that to one of the abused, abandoned, neglected cats that you rescue?”

No, no I would not.

So, I resolve, once again, as I did last year in Jan 2015, to continue to lose weight.

In a healthy way.

Resoultion 3:
Write More

POV cover 2015 webI will finish the revised edition of my 2001 book Mastering Fiction and Point of View. Not only have writers, experienced and new, published and not, been asking me for the new edition, but my editors actually were planning on publishing the Revised, Updated, & Expanded edition in December 2015. But I didn’t get it finished. I didn’t even get to the point where I could give it to my editors for their feedback.

Was I blogging too much?

Was I spending too much time on social media?

Was I working too much on my memoir of life with a serial killer mother, M is for Munchers?

Was I doing too much of the household chores, errands, etc?

Was I too busy learning Kundalini Yoga?

Was I spending too much time watching movies with Mads Mikkelsen — for blogging, of course…

Was I spending too much time staring out the windows?

Whatever I was doing, I do agree with my editors that I was not spending enough time working on the revision of my POV book.

I resolve to work on it until it is finished, get it to my editors so they can give me feedback, rewrite — taking their suggestions into account, and then get the book back to them so they can publish it without having to change the cover again.

They are also the boss of me, and though it probably won’t take them (or their graphic artist) too much work to change the words 14th Anniversary Edition to 15th Anniversary Edition, I really need to get this book done.

Resolution 4:
Walk More

pink-fitness-center-1432405When I originally lost that 275 pounds, I not only ate only when I was hungry and stopped when I was no longer hungry, I walked. Not fast: we live in the mountains, and you can’t walk fast in the mountains. At least, I can’t. But I walked every day.

I started with 5 minutes a day for a month. Then I moved up to 10 minutes a day. Each month, I added 5 minutes until I was at 30 minutes a day.

Despite eventually dropping down to 175 pounds, which was not the lowest weight I’ve ever been at, or even what I considered “normal” for most of my life (that would be 150 pounds), I was thinner than I had ever been. I was wearing smaller clothes, higher heels, and feeling better about my body than I ever had.

Walking, even slowly — I walk about 1-1.5 mph — can dramatically change your body shape. It takes a lot longer than running, but I can no longer run. In 1995, I fell down a mountain in Wyoming and shattered my L leg and ankle. It took 3 years to heal from the surgery, which replaced most of my bones — which had shattered into such fine dust, the surgeon had to use a surgical vacuum to get the bone out of my leg — with metal plates, bolts, and really big, long screws. Both the surgeon in Wyoming and the surgeon in Ohio, where we lived, told me I could never run again. They said that the plate would buckle and take the entire bone it’s attached to with it, necessitating another surgery and even more extensive recovery time and physical therapy.

They told me I would have to become a Walker, and this was long before most of us had heard of The Walking Dead.

I’ve walked since then.

In 2008, I was eventually walking 45 minutes a day, albeit at the same 1.5 mph pace.

Then I got a stress-fracture in my pelvis.

The doctors at the ER and those at the Sports Medicine Center told me “humans weren’t built to walk 45 minutes a day.” I think they’re all crazy: what did humans do in our ancient past, before we had animals to ride or vehicles to transport us? Still, that’s what all of them except my GP kept telling me. In any event, the stress-fracture side-lined me for several months while it was healing.

Two years ago, I discovered, during my annual physical, that I had virtually no vitamin D or calcium in my blood, and, after a bone-scan, that my bones are thinner than they should have been for my age. It’s a condition known as osteopenia rather than as osteoporosis, I guess because the bones didn’t just snap and break. They eroded over time with exercise (bones are supposed to release calcium etc into the blood when you exercise: that’s how they signal your body to send more calcium there and the bones get stronger), but my bones were too thin to begin with, and the doctor suspected that the osteopenia, combined with my exercise, caused the three stress fractures I’ve had in the last 10 years (2 in the pelvis, one in the foot).

The most likely reason for the osteopenia and the virtual lack of vitamin D and calcium in my blood?

Childhood dietary deficiency.

That’s another word for being starved by your Muncher mother.

I took supplements until I got into the low normal range, then began walking again, but I had to start all over again with the 5 minutes a day and adding 5 minutes a month routine.

In 2015, I walked 30 minutes a day, at 1-1.5 mph,  81% of the time: 297 days out of the year. I didn’t walk at all in February because I had bronchitis. That means I actually walked 297 days in the remaining 11 months.

When do I walk? After I feed the cats their breakfast — canned food, which is the only time of the day they get it; the rest of the day, they eat from the buffet of dry food — at 5 a.m. Why so early? Before we moved to Big Rock Candy Mountain, when I was teaching, I used to get up at 5 to write for at least 2 hours before I went to teach my classes at the University. Our cats thought that since I was already up, I might as well feed them breakfast.

Though I’m now retired from University, the cats still think breakfast is served at 5 a.m., and for much of the year, here in the Desert Wilderness, the temperatures are in the 90s before 7 in the morning, so, actually, walking after serving them breakfast at 5 works for this writer-Mommy, because I usually write after that.

Though I only lost 26 pounds in 2015, I lost 5 inches all over (except my bustline, which is genetically large… to Tom’s delight). In the past, when I was anorexic or “dieting,” losing an inch off my waist, hips, etc equaled losing 10 pounds of weight. Not so with walking. It may take longer than it takes with running, but walking gets you to the same place eventually. And you end up thinner at a higher weight.

This year, I resolve to continue walking and to add 5 minutes a day to each walking session.

I’ll walk 35 minutes a day, at 1-1.5 mph, and my goal is to walk at least 90-95% of the time.

Resolution 5:
Write More

The Zombied Trilogy Book One webIn January 2015, the first volume of The Zombied Trilogy was published: Love is a Many Zombied Thing. According to my editors’ plan, the 2nd and 3rd volumes of the trilogy were to have been written, edited, revised, and published in 2015.

I think it didn’t happen because, in 2014, I began completing their suggested (major) revisions to my memoir, M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door. That book has taken me years to write, and not just due to the editors’ suggestions about changes. I entered an earlier version of it in a contest in 2007, and was given enough praise and critical suggestions for me to completely change the way I was doing the book, given its subject matter. So I know I had an entire manuscript of the book, with a different title — which none of the judges in the contest liked, by the way — in 2007.

After Love is a Many Zombied Thing was published, I felt a blank about where the second and third books in the series should specifically go, although the editors and I were clear about where they should generally go. In short, I had the ideas for the remainder of the trilogy, and the editors heartily approved the ideas, but I didn’t know how to start book 2.

As is my usual practice when something won’t come in a book, I begin working on a different one. That’s how I began the revisions to Munchers.

But what stopped me from writing any of the other books was the intense grieving that writing the memoir caused.

I thought I’d done all the grieving when I wrote and revised Munchers originally.

Apparently, I had not.

The grief almost overwhelmed me.

Though Munchers was published in 2014, the grief prevented me from finishing Zombied on schedule. By the time I finished Book 1, I had already missed the deadlines for Books 2 & 3. My editors were not pleased, though they claimed to understand the grief-delay.

I resolve to finish — or at least to start — the final two books of The Zombied Trilogy.

After all, those characters, and my readers, deserve to have the story finished.

Resolution 6:
Spend More Time
With Those I Love

Ling and SophieThat means Ling (L) and Sophie (R) as well as Trixie. After all, Sophie is the one who has Feline Stomatitis, an auto-immune disease or disorder, whom we would have had to put down if extracting all her teeth, including the roots, had not put the disease-disorder into a manageable state. She gets NSAIDs every other day. Each time we’ve attempted to increase the time between doses or to reduce the dose — to protect her kidneys — the painful inflammation and swelling of her gums, tongue, and throat return. In the wild, she would have starved to death, in great pain. We have to get her blood tested every three months, to monitor the kidney function, and she’s staying steady — at an already slightly elevated rate — so Mommy has to take care of her, and that includes checking her mouth every time I give her the meds to make sure she’s doing fine.

Ling and Sophie are the ones who contracted Bubonic Plague in 2012 (and gave it to us) and almost died. I didn’t even know Bubonic Plague still existed when we moved here, but it still exists all over the world, not just in laboratories, but in dry, arid climates like the American Southwest. We already almost lost them once.

IMG_2520 It means spending time with Sascha (middle) because she’s been operated on twice in the last two years for cancerous tumors on her lower lip that have gotten so close to her jawbone that the Vet promised she would never take Sascha’s jawbone, even if the suspicious cells became malignant. When Mosie died, we didn’t even realize she had cancer until the week before she died: she began breathing strangely, and X-rays revealed the tumors. Though Mommy checks Sascha’s mouth regularly, the next surgery and pathology report — if there is one — could reveal malignancy rather than “suspicious cells.”

IMG_2397It means spending more time with Shooter Tov, the oldest of our cats (12 this month), who has FORLS. I can’t recall right now what it stands for, but 20% of Rescue cats have the condition, which has also been found in the skeletons of sabre-tooth tigers. The enamel of the teeth doesn’t re-form, eventually exposing the root or simply breaking the tooth, leaving the animal in great pain. Additionally, if the affected teeth are not removed, the disease moves into the bones of the jaw, face, head, neck, etc., killing the cat.

Shooter’s already lost 3 teeth to FORLS, two years ago, and two weeks ago, he began crying out if anything touched his face. Two more teeth have broken, exposing the roots. He’s having surgery Wednesday (and has been on pain meds until the Vet could get him in: it takes special expertise to get the teeth, root and all, out of the jaw, so that the disease will not eat away the jawbone).

I know that, even if the Vet had to extract all of Shooter’s teeth, he’d be fine. After all, Sophie’s had no teeth for over 2 years now, and she not only eats dry food just fine, she hops, skips, and dances around the house like she owns the place. Still, Shooter’s in pain now, so I’ve also been nursing him for the past 2 weeks, and he’ll be in more pain after the surgery: he’ll need Mommy, whether Mommy thinks she needs to write or not.

IMG_2417IMG_2429I resolve to spend more time with Baxter (top) and Mr. Eli (bottom), who are virtually always with me in my office while I’m writing, not because there’s anything wrong with them, but simply because we rescued them and they deserve love and attention even if they’re not sick.

IMG_2165I can’t forget Sadie-Doggie, who had to have a molar extracted last month after she began vomiting and we discovered an apricot-sized lymph-node under her jaw. Her immune system was trying to fight the infection from the rotten tooth, but it was losing. It the infection had gone systemic, she would have died. Because she’s part Border Collie, part Terrier, and part Hound, she has the loose neck-folds of a Hound, and we didn’t notice the lump till after she was vomiting.

I love all the pets we’ve rescued, and have been devastated each time we’ve lost one. As one of my friends who also rescues cats said, upon hearing of Trixie’s diagnosis, “We know they’ll most likely have health issues because they’ve been abandoned, neglected, or abused, but we have to just act as if each day with them is the last. Because it might be.”

This year, every day, I’m going to act as if each day is the very last I’ll ever have with each of my babies.

Because it might be.

Resolution 7:
Don’t Forget Tom

I know this might sound corny after 22 years together, but sometimes I probably do take Tom for granted. After all, he’s a reliable, faithful, good man, and I certainly don’t “forget him” on purpose. Other things drag at my attention — like a dying cat — and it takes me a while to remember that’s he’s right there beside me, grieving just as much. He completely morally supports my writing, and so stays out of my office and doesn’t disturb me when I’m writing — no matter how long I’m at it. (He sometimes even makes dinner, fixes a plate for me, and puts it in the fridge for me to eat after I’m finished for the day.)

Tom’s gotten up with me every single morning at 5 since Trixie’s diabetes diagnosis to take Sadie out to the bathroom, wash all the animals’ breakfast dishes, and give me a kiss before he’s gone back to sleep, and I’ve headed for the treadmill. (He’s horrified that it’s still dark when I wake him: when he worked, he worked second shift virtually his entire career, so it was always light when he woke.)

Though he doesn’t admit to panic over the animals when they’re ill, he’s clearly stressed. He could probably use some more attention and comfort, too.

He also was diagnosed with diabetes himself last year, and though he lost the 20 pounds as directed, and mostly keeps to his “diet,” he has suddenly decided that he needs to take care of himself better.

And I need to love him and appreciate him more.

I need to tell him so.

Because each day might be the last.

Resolution 8:
Read More
Books-1

Because it makes me happy.

Final Resolution:
Write More

stock-photo-20291293-vintage-woman-writerBecause it’s who I am.

And because, sometimes, as women, we have to make a greater commitment to our art due to all the other things vying for our attention.

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Filed under Blogging, Books, Caregivers, Cats, Creative Writing, Editors, Memoir, Munchausen's by Proxy, New Beginnings, Point of View, Real Life of a Writer, Writing, Writing & Revising

Plague in the USA

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On Saturday 23 June 2012, my boyfriend and I were thrown back into the Middle Ages when two of our cats were diagnosed with Bubonic Plague. Yes, the Bubonic Plague.  Known as the “Black Death” during the Middle Ages because it kills the body from the inside, turning the skin tissue necrotic, making the skin black. Official medical term: Yersinia Pestis. Diagnosis: death, unless immediately treated with antibiotics. As we stood there in disbelief, we wondered what century we were in.

It had seemed to start the night before, when we noticed that our Apricot Siamese, Ling, hadn’t eaten or drunk all day. Furthermore, she was hiding under the dresser. When I pulled her out, she was hot to the touch and clearly dehydrated: the skin of her neck where I’d scruffed her remained standing, a sign of dehydration. Also, she was silent: a warning sign with any Siamese, who talk to people and to other cats simply because they love to talk, and especially with Ling, who seems to love the sound of her voice so much that she talks even when she jumps off the bed. To no one. Just for fun. As the vet’s office was already closed for the day, I left a message that we would be bringing Ling in first thing in the morning, told them her symptoms, and went to bed worried – not having any idea what was wrong with her.

The next morning, about an hour before the vet opened, I was looking for all the cats – as I always do when leaving the house or upon coming home – and I couldn’t find our youngest, Sophie. She didn’t come when I called, as we’ve trained all our cats to do. They don’t always answer when they come, it’s true, but when you call, they come and sit so you can see them. She didn’t come out from wherever she was sleeping. She hadn’t come out to eat breakfast: the one time of the day they get any canned food. I wasn’t able to find her in any of her hiding places. My boyfriend and I began to panic.

Had she gotten out the front door somehow the night before without our noticing? Since we live on a mountain in the Rockies where wild animals prevent our going out in the dark, this would have been her death sentence. There are bears, lions, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and owls here, any one of which will eat cats or dogs. There are no stray animals on this mountain. In the four years we have lived in this house, we have never seen a single stray, though we have seen bobcats, coyotes, and a bear, all of which were in our own front yard.

We have a covered kennel attached to the house, and the cats can go out into it, but they cannot go anywhere. They cannot roam. (We think the kennel would keep out most of the wild animals except bears, but if any other animal approached the kennel, the cats would come running back into the house through the cat-door, and if a bear – the only animal which could conceivably tear the kennel apart – tried to then get into the house by tearing apart the wall around the cat-door, we would be on the phone to 9-1-1 since all our lives would then be in danger.) I went outside and looked at the kennel, thinking Sophie was hiding behind the small doghouse in its corner which serves as their “club-house”. No Sophie.

After another half-hour’s increasingly desperate searching, I finally found her. Under my boyfriend’s dresser – a place she’d never been before – curled up in a fetal position in the corner. Unresponsive. I pulled her out. She was hot to the touch. On her jawline was an abscess – or so I thought. She would also need to visit the vet to antibiotics and a thorough cleaning of the abscess. The fever, however, surprised me.

Still, being used to having cats who occasionally wrestle and kick each other with their hind claws, leaving an abscess, and having been taught, years ago, by the vets how to clean and take care of one, I attempted to at least get the pus and blood out of Sophie’s abscess before taking her to the vet, along with Ling, who was listlessly lying on the bed.

When I picked Sophie up, she fought so hard that I dropped her. She’d never done that before. Instead of running away after she’d struggled to get loose, however, she just lay there on the floor. Very odd. She fought hard enough that I dropped her but then didn’t run away? I had my boyfriend hold her while I gently pressed a warm, wet cloth to the abscess. She fought so violently and repeatedly that both of us were seriously scratched, to the point of bleeding rather profusely and being bruised around the scratches. Another anomaly. Not just for Sophie, but for any of our cats. Usually, when I take care of one of the cats’ abscesses, they lie there and purr since the moist warmth keeps the abscess from closing, helping it drain, and relieving any pain it might cause them. Also, I think it makes them feel pampered since they soon come to look forward to it.

Though I noted that Sophie’s abscess seemed to be near a lymph-node, and that she seemed to have other swollen lymph-nodes, my first thought was not that she had Bubonic Plague – never would that have entered my mind. No, my initial reaction was that I had to clean the abscess myself, before the vet opened, so that the pus would not drain into her immune system through her lymph-nodes and spread an infection throughout her body.

Who knew?

We put both of the cats in crates and headed for the vet. Our regular vet doesn’t work on Saturday, so we saw one who had never treated our animals. She examined Ling first. A fever. Dehydration. Nothing else she could detect. She said she had to take a blood sample any time a cat had a fever because of the serious nature of fevers in cats. We asked what the possibilities were. She tried to reassure us by not telling us, advising us to wait till the blood results came back. As the assistant took Ling to the back for the blood draw, and the vet took Sophie out of the next crate, we found ourselves longing for our regular vet, who not only communicates with us as if we are capable of understanding everything she says – even the Latin medical terms – but treats us with respect, as “parents” rather than as simply “owners” of a sick animal.

As soon as this other vet pulled Sophie from the crate, she shrieked, released her, and virtually ran to the wall, grabbing rubber gloves and a paper-mask for her nose and mouth. She also barked at the assistant to put them on, which the assistant hesitantly and very slowly did. The vet opened the examining room door that led to the back surgery/treatment room and yelled at the assistant who was drawing Ling’s blood to don gloves and mask. Then she cautiously returned to the examining table, where I was holding poor little Sophie in my scratched arms, her bloody, abscessed chin resting on my cut forearm. The vet lifted Sophie’s chin to see the abscess I’d cleaned. Behind her mask, to our bewildered astonishment, she began to giggle.

“Oh, my god, it’s a bubo,” she said. “I’ve never seen one in real life. Only in pictures. Look: it’s a bubo.”

“A bubo?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, still giggling annoyingly (okay, it may have been nervousness, but my boyfriend and I were both incredibly unhappy with her behavior and vowed never to let anyone but our regular vet see our pets again).

“A bubo?”

“Yes, bubo is from Bubonic Plague…”

“I know what a bubo is,” I said. “The Middle Ages was one of the periods I studied in school.”

“This cat has Bubonic Plague. That’s a bubo that’s burst.”

Her entire demeanor then changed. She talked about death – of both cats there with us – and possible infection of all the other cats at home since Sophie, as the sickest, must have been infectious for days, passing the Plague onto Ling through grooming, and now both were severely contagious.

“You mean the other cats might have the Plague?” I said.

“They might,” she said, “but I’m more worried about the two of you. Look how many deep scratches you have. And you, you cleaned the bubo. Were you wearing gloves?”

She then yelled at me for not wearing plastic gloves while cleaning what I thought was an abscess, while my boyfriend and I stood there, dazed, not sure we were hearing her correctly. Meanwhile, she  told us that both Ling and Sophie had the symptoms of Bubonic Plague; they had to have blood drawn and sent to the State Health Department; they had to immediately be put on antibiotics. She ordered us to go to the Emergency Room at the major hospital in Albuquerque (almost 2 hours away) as soon as we left her office.

We did not go to the hospital. The cats were so ill, we could not leave them alone that weekend. In fact, my boyfriend and I were up all night Sunday with Sophie, who was delirious, did not recognize her name, fought like a rabid dog whenever we tried to give her the medications or to hydrate her, and whose eyes were unfocussed. We were sure that she would die that night, so we stayed up with her.

She survived, though she was still very sick. But by Monday morning, both my boyfriend and I were feeling ill ourselves: we had crushing headaches, unbelievable body pain, swollen lymph-nodes in our armpits. Additionally, I had a cough that would not stop, accompanied by a dreadful pressure in my chest.

Stress? I hoped that’s what it was as I went to the computer to look up Bubonic Plague symptoms. What I found horrified me.

Yes, the Bubonic Plague still exists. All over the world. In fact, the military in virtually every country, including the United States, has the Plague bacteria in cold-storage, in case it’s needed for a vaccine in the event of a biological-Plague-weapons attack from another country. Of course, I believe that’s the only reason anyone would keep samples of the Bubonic Plague: to protect themselves from someone else’s using it as a biologic-weapon…

As I continued to read, I  grew more frightened. Bubonic Plague is the most common naturally occurring Plague. People exposed to Plague need immediate treatment. The highest incidences of Bubonic Plague in the US occur in New Mexico and Arizona, though it has also been documented in Colorado. It is not unusual for the fatal disease to move from an infected animal to a human who handles it – especially if the person is bitten or scratched – though the most common method of transmission is from flea bites.

Just as it was in the Middle Ages, when millions of people died.

40-60% of Europe’s population was destroyed as the Plague swept across Western Europe, arriving with the fleas on the rats on the Chinese silk-merchants’ ships. They thought the fatal disease was God’s Curse on them… for something. Yes, it turns the bodies black from gangrenous tissue, hence the term “The Black Death.”

plague-gangrene-hand-450

(Picture of gangrene of the hand caused by Y. pestis; digits and other skin areas that developed this gangrene helped name the plague as “the Black Death.” SOURCE: CDC/Dr. Jack Poland)

In the Middle Ages, people believed The Plague was carried through the air (and one version of it is, when someone coughs), and went to the countryside (if they were wealthy) to get away from the “infected air” , and carried perfumed handkerchiefs or small bouquets of flowers held to their mouths and noses to avoid breathing in the Plague. They burned the bodies of those who died of the Plague in an attempt to prevent its spread. They also locked entire families in their houses when only one person was infected, sealed the house, and marked it as a warning to keep others away.

One of the children’s songs we all grew up singing is from that era.

Ring around the rosies,
Pocket full of posies,
Ashes, Ashes,
We all fall down.

As in “fall down dead”. When we played and sang that as children, holding hands and going around in a circle as we sang, then falling down “dead” at the end of it, we had no idea it was about the Bubonic Plague.

Did you?

(“Ring Around the Rosy: Meaning Behind the Nursery Rhyme”)

The Plague is believed to have originated in Northwest China, near Mongolia, where there was an outbreak, within the last three years, that killed hundreds of people. The outbreak happened to occur within a 100-mile radius of the facility where the Chinese have the Bubonic Plague stored. In deep freeze. The government claimed that an accident occurred and the Plague was released through the air-vents. World Health Watch-Groups suspect that the Chinese government intentionally released it into the atmosphere to determine whether the Plague was still viable.

It was. It is.

Bubonic Plague, which affects the lymph system (i.e., the immune system) has a mortality rate of 60-80% if left untreated. Even if detected early and treated, the Plague has a mortality rate of 15%. Treatment should be initiated immediately, or, at least, no longer than 24 hours from suspected exposure. Patients exposed to the Plague should be hospitalized in isolation/quarantine units.

Bubonic Plague can migrate into the lungs, at which point it is called Pneumonic Plague, when the mortality rate rises to 90-100% without antibiotics. Bubonic Plague can migrate into the blood, is then called Septicemic Plague, which, untreated, has a mortality rate of 99-100%. One of the first symptoms of Pneumonic Plague is chest pain and an incessant cough.

I had chest pain and a persistent cough.

Along with all the other symptoms my boyfriend and I shared.

I immediately called my Doctor’s office, informed them what had happened, and asked if we could come in to get tested. They said they were not equipped to either isolate us nor to test us for The Plague, and that we were, under no circumstances, to come to their office. Same message from the next several clinics and Urgent Care Centers. We were instructed to go to the Emergency Room immediately. (We were also yelled at for not having gone on Saturday). Still not believing that we ourselves were at any health risk, I called the State Health Department, where the Head of Infectious Diseases, openly horrified, insisted that we go immediately to the ER at the largest Albuquerque hospital as it is the “only facility in the state equipped to isolate/quarantine you, test you, and treat you.” She was very upset that we had waited till Monday 25 June and ordered us, literally, to hang up, get into the car, and go.

We did so.

Once we were there, we dutifully wrote, under reason for visit: Exposure to Bubonic Plague. We were told to go have a seat, where we waited, constantly moving whenever someone else got too near, for over an hour.

“They don’t seem very concerned that we were exposed to Bubonic Plague,” said my boyfriend at one point. “They didn’t even give us masks.”

“I guess that vet overreacted… maybe we can’t get the Plague from Sophie and Ling. Maybe we should go back home. I’m afraid Sophie might die while we sit around here waiting…”

Then we were called back, where we waited another hour. Without any special treatment or masks, though I, at least, repeatedly told everyone we came into contact with that we had been exposed to the Bubonic Plague.

The nonchalance and seeming indifference ended when the ER doctor picked up our charts.

We were whisked away into quarantine, where we were forced to remain for almost nine hours. The door to the examining room was closed. A red warning sign posted on its window. No one entered that room without gloves, mask, and protective garments over their clothes. The doctors there also yelled at us, being very upset that we had not come in on Saturday.

Since the sickest cat, Sophie, was still extremely ill and non-responsive, we begged the Dr. on call to let one of us go home to be with her in  case she died. We promised that as soon as the one who remained in the hospital returned home, the one who had left to be with Sophie would come back. The Doctor apologized profusely but said that neither of us could leave the hospital since we were already showing symptoms of the plague. I was showing more than my boyfriend since I had been scratched, as he had, but had also cleaned the abscess – I mean, burst bubo. I had more swollen lymph-nodes under my armpits, and a cough that would not stop (which necessitated a chest X-ray to ensure that the plague had not complicated into Pneumonic Plague). We both had headaches, fever, body aches, and decreased appetite.

8 large vials of blood were taken from each of us. 4 from each were tested immediately to determine if we would even be permitted to leave the hospital that day. The other 4 were to be sent to the State Health Department. Beyond feeling very sick, we were terrified that Sophie would be dead when we arrived home, and that all our other pets would have become infected and showing symptoms.

After they finally released us, we went home, where we found Sophie and the other cat prostrate with fever and plague symptoms. Still alive.

There were also five Voice-Mails from a Dr. from the  State Health Department. He informed me that he had already received the tests on the cats back from the State Lab and that both were positive. He wanted us to go to the ER. We informed him that we had just returned. He requested that, though we “might be over the infectious period” – he couldn’t be sure – that we “self-quarantine by remaining in the home for at least 5 more days” so that we would not infect any other persons.

He needn’t have worried about our going anywhere. By the next morning, we were in agony (and understood why Sophie fought so hard whenever we tried to give her the medications: the headache and body pain alone are devastating).

He informed us that after the 5 days isolation, the State Health Department would be sending out representatives to check our house and property for evidence of fleas (we had none) and Plague-carrying animals, all abundant in the mountains where we live: mice, pack-rats, rock-squirrels, jack-rabbits, white-tail rabbits, etc.

For the next five days, my boyfriend and I did not get out of bed, except to check on the cats, give them their medications, and hydrate them, because we were so ill ourselves. We had, indeed, been exposed to Bubonic Plague, which still exists all over the world, but which, in the United States, is concentrated in the Southwest, in New Mexico and Arizona (no one knows why). The area we live in, we were told by the State Health Department Doctor, is called “the Plague Capital of New Mexico” because it has the highest number of documented cases of the disease, as well as the highest number of animal and human deaths.

Why is this not general public information?

It would hurt the tourist industry.

(Just to be fair to the state officials, bureaucrats, and travel/hospitality industry, tourists aren’t warned about all the wild animals in the Rocky Mountains either, and many of those tourists who visit the state parks and natural areas let their dogs run free and “lose” them. Forever.)

Fortunately, both my boyfriend and I survived, though we were very ill. Ling was on antibiotics, on an increasing dose, for six weeks. Sophie, who did, indeed, almost die, was on increasing doses of antibiotics as more swollen lymph-nodes were discovered, and was treated for over three months before she began to recover. Our regular Vet, also a specialist in small animals, surmised that Sophie, as the most severely ill, had been infected first; and that Ling, who is her buddy, got infected from grooming her. The State Health Department did not find any evidence of fleas, mice/rat infestations on the property, dead rabbits who might have died of plague, etc. The cats do not roam since we live on a mountain where there are wild animals; they cannot get out of the kennel; no evidence of any dead animals who are plague-carriers was found around the kennel or, indeed, anywhere  in our yard.

The Vet believes that a jack-rabbit may have come near the kennel when Sophie was out in it, a flea may have jumped onto Sophie, bitten her, and infected her, etc. It is her best guess since the animals were clearly infected and we were exposed to the point where we were exhibiting symptoms.

Ling and Sophie

(Ling and Sophie, healthy, happy, and snuggling love-buddies, once again)

I suppose the only good thing to have come out of this ordeal is that, supposedly, once you have survived Bubonic Plague, you are immune to it. Unless it mutates, of course, and you are exposed to another version…

(video link: “Ring Around the Rosies” )

Top comment to this video:
“You might as well be singing
Symptoms of serious illness,
Flowers to ward off the stench,
We’re burning the corpses,
We all drop dead.

Indeed.

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Filed under Bubonic Plague, Cats, Documentary/Historical Video, Memoir, Music Videos